Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thinking about thinking....

In a recent post on Pharyngula PZ Meyers attempts to divide people up into Naturals vs unnaturals.

Naturals are "...those people who consider material evidence paramount and regard the real world as a mostly sufficient container of phenomena that define our existence..."

and

"those who think inspiration and intuition and all the internal imagery of their minds define their external reality; that what they wish to be so will be so if only they can articulate it and select and distort evidence for the purposes of persuasion."

I don't think that he is quite right in how he does this, after for a poet inspiration and internal imagery are all important, but I think he is on to something if we make a slightly more elaborate scheme. I don't think the terms are novel with me but I envision a 2 x 2 matrix distinguishing between the mode of thinking and relationship between the universe. First of all with respect to mode of thinking: the distinction between linear or analytical thinking and analogical thinking. Analytical thinking is sequential and based on explicit rules that can be formalized. Analogical thinking is implicit not based on formal rules..at least not verbalized rules and is not linear. In analogical thinking inspiration and intuition are important. These define the columns of my little matrix.

As for the rows, my distinction is between empirical and magical. Empirical thinking views the operation of the universe as explainable by natural and objectively testable mechanisms. Magical thinking operates outside of and is not consistent with empirical and testable explanations.

So what are representative tasks that fall into these four groups...Recognizing that no one is purely in any one group but rather these are extremes on along two possibly oblique axes:

Analytical empirical: Most engineers and scientists doing every day science. Me analyzing a linkage problem.

Analytical magical: Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe and other ID proponents and vitalists; perhaps religious scholars trying to reason about God or develop rationalizations for their beliefs.

Analogic empirical: Scientists and mathematicians working on a new problem and really struggling. Many modern poets-think Objective poetry. Some religious people, Dr. Coyne, or myself when thinking about the relationship between God and the universe.

Analogic magical: Pat Robertson, New Agers. Believers in Wicca and witchcraft casting a spell. Perhaps Catholics including myself when we are receiving communion. A little kid not stepping on cracks in sidewalks. Poets and writers in their metaphorical internal worlds. Gamers in Second Life and other multiplayer universes.

Notice that I define mental tasks and my classification is mental task oriented rather than person oriented.
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